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Empirically An Empire

Abahan Dutta recently arrived in Sergiev Posad – a city in Russia, northeast of Moscow. The city is popularly known as the religious capital of Russia. The headquarters of the Russian Orthodox Church is situated here in Sergiev Posad. A local guide informed the Indian visitor that the government of erstwhile Soviet Union had closed the Church in 1920 and asked the priests to leave the premises. The Soviet authorities opened the Church again in 1945 (after the WWII) as the Communist rulers decided to convert the Church into a museum. No, the Soviet authorities didn’t destroy the Church after the Bolshevik Revolution! The guide told the visiting Indian national that even Moscow remained the same 26 years after the fall of Soviet Union. Later, Dutta discovered 82 statues of Lenin (and some of Stalin) in the Russian capital.


Russian Orthodox Church in Sergiev Posad

Dutta recently told an Indian daily that he was surprised to see there is no contradiction in Russia despite such eventful history. According to the Indian visitor, the Communists – who triggered the collapse of the Russian Empire and established the Soviet State – had successfully preserved the history of Tsar. The murderers of Tsar Nicholas II took the responsibility to protect the State Historical Museum (now the Tsar Alexander III Imperial Russian History Museum) and the Cathedral during the Soviet era! Works by masters – such as Rembrandt and Da Vinci – were still there in the Winter Palace, the official residence of the Russian monarchs from 1732 to 1917, in Saint Petersburg. After the October Revolution, the Communists restored the palace and converted it into the Hermitage Museum. In fact, they brought some works of Matisse and Picasso in an attempt to enrich the museum. The modern Russia, too, is concentrating on the conservation and beautification of the museum.


Russian History Museum

The Tsars had built beautiful buildings near the Neva River in the northern part of Saint Petersburg, while the communal apartments are still carrying the symbols of the Stalinist Architecture in the southern part of the city. The Russians did not destroy others’ constructions before building their own.
In Vladimir Putin’s city, guide Catherine shared the story of Tsar IV Ivan Vasilyevich – commonly known as ‘Ivan the Terrible’ or ‘Ivan the Fearsome’ – with Dutta and other visitors. When Dutta told his guide that the Indians are familiar with Vasilyevich because of Sergei Eisenstein’s film ‘Ivan the Terrible’, Catherine said: “Eisenstein is very political.” Dutta realised that his guide didn’t like the Soviet era! Asked why didn’t they remove the sickle and hammer from the top of old headquarters of Putin’s police force, Catherine replied: “They don’t do that…. That’s the history!


KGB Headquarters in St Petersburg

From Tsar to Soviet and from Soviet to Democracy… the global community considers the episodes of Russian history as exciting. However, the Russians don’t think so. According to the common people in Russia, a family used to rule the entire nation once upon a time and members of that family enjoyed all the national properties. Later, the Bolsheviks came to power with the help of poor section of people and the state became the owner of all the properties or wealth. The state distributed the houses of wealthy people among the common people. Everyone got the opportunity to enjoy their basic rights. The state also started taking care of the education sector, health sector and the transport system. The people used to receive food items from the government during the Soviet era. Unfortunately, the Communist Party accumulated all the wealth (or properties). The Soviet Communist Party donated a part of the wealth to Communist Parties of different countries. The system slowly paralysed the economy and triggered the fall of the Soviet Union! The people received vouchers from the new government so that they could claim their old properties. As common people didn’t have enough liquid cash, some wealthy people purchased all the vouchers! Still, the common people get an opportunity to enjoy resources of the country. Some purchase flats and cars. In fact, the people have learnt how to ‘consume’ products. This is the history of Russia in a nutshell!


President Putin

President Putin’s success lies here… He has accepted the entire history as it is. Oleg, a driver, told Dutta: “Communists are still popular in Russia. The aged people, who had enjoyed the social security during the Soviet era, support the Communists. The Communists received 17% of votes in the last election. They are the main oppositions.” When Dutta said that the Communists could get more votes, had the concerned authorities held a fair election, Oleg rejected the view. He stressed: “No, wrong information. The global media have circulated such ‘stories’. Putin is still a popular political figure. Even if some votes were rigged, it wasn’t a big deal!
Interestingly, Oleg is not a supporter of Putin. Instead, he calls the president ‘Tsar’. The driver believes that it’s important to complete the ‘unfinished’ October Revolution of 1917. Oleg also believes that President Putin has created no trouble for the people so far.


Lenin Mausoleum, Moscow

Before his arrival in Russia, Dutta came to know that the Russian president was not interested in organising a special event to mark the centenary of the October Revolution in 2017. That’s true, as the Russian government didn’t organise any event. However, Oleg informed his Indian guest that the Communist Party of the Russian Federation had organised a parade at the Red Square in Moscow on November 8, 2017. The State Hermitage Museum at Saint Petersburg is still carrying the legacy of the Soviet era. The posters of Lenin and propaganda posters are there on the walls.

The Soviet converted the Tsar’s palaces into museums. Similarly, the Putin administration opened the offices of Lenin and Stalin, Politburo office of the Bolshevik Party and the New Kremlin for tourists. And what about Lenin’s Mausoleum? The Tsar sympathisers and the Orthodox Church have strong reservations about the memorial situated near the Kremlin. However, the head of the Communist Party of Russian Federation has said that President Putin doesn’t want vandalism at the Red Square. The former KGB chief’s decision has been explained in different ways by different persons. But, this is the Russian tradition and President Putin is well aware of that.
Also, there are some other issues. Some valuable items, including the Trinity-Sergius Lavra Tsar Bell, were damaged during the Stalin era in 1930. Some paintings of the Hermitage Museum were also auctioned during that period. Vandals bombed one of Russia’s most famous statues of Vladimir Lenin in 2009, leaving the bronze statue of Bolshevik hero with a gaping hole in his rear.


Lenin’s statue was left with a gaping hole

In Russia, the common people still remember two names: Tsar and Stalin! They worship those, who successfully demonstrated the power of Russia at the global stage. President Putin, too, is doing that. As a result, the Russians are happy with the war in Syria, as Russia has got an opportunity to throw a strong challenge to the US in West Asia!
Oleg’s statement helped Dutta realise the actual mood of Russia! When asked why don’t the Russians prefer English (while communicating with the foreigners), the driver said: “Because… we are not colony. We are Empire… Always Empire!

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